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Book Reviews   |    
My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson—His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous
Reviewed by Judith Faberman, L.I.C.S.W., L.A.D.C.-I.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.1.117
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by Susan Cheever; New York, Simon and Schuster, 2004, 306 pages, $25

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Easily the self-help program most widely recommended by medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse treatment providers alike, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions of people recover from what was once thought of as the hopeless and untreatable disease of alcoholism. AA has been in existence for more than 60 years, yet little is known about the creator of the program or the process by which AA came to have such a profoundly positive effect on the lives of so many people.

My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson—His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous chronicles the life of the man behind AA. Using diaries, personal letters, interviews, and archives, Susan Cheever provides an honest portrayal both of Wilson and of the program he created. The book begins with an in-depth description of Wilson's early childhood, including the traumatic experiences and psychological struggles that eventually resulted in his dependence on alcohol. After losing control of his alcohol use, forfeiting jobs and business opportunities, and breaking countless promises to himself and his devoted wife, Wilson began the search for answers to his addiction problems. My Name Is Bill recounts experiences in hospitals, in Christian group meetings, and with trusted friends and physicians, where the essential lessons that resulted in the creation of AA materialized.

The second half of the book is devoted to a description of the beginnings of AA through the process of Wilson's personal discoveries. Cheever describes the first step, when Wilson realized the need to surrender to the disease of alcoholism in order to be helped. Wilson came to understand that sharing the story of his personal struggle with others, and hearing their stories, was somehow connected to staying sober. No lecture, no rules, and no prescribed method could work for curing alcoholism.

Helping others became intricately linked to Wilson's own sobriety. My Name Is Bill covers many other aspects of AA, including how the ideals of anonymity, democracy, and nonprofessionalism became the tenets of the group.

Although My Name Is Bill tells the story of a brilliant man—one credited with the creation of a worldwide organization that has influenced the lives of millions—it is also a strikingly human story fraught with struggle and controversy. Cheever successfully balances her task of telling this story. The book is an easy and enjoyable read while being a valuable source of information about AA.

Ms. Faberman is the director of the alcohol and drug abuse treatment partial hospitalization program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

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